Friday, April 23, 2010


I was looking at satellites view of the area around Arusha, trying to find the exact village where we will be building the school and I saw a large patch of red ground. Zooming in I started seeing funny circles on the ground and there they were, the Maasai villages! I kind of thought they existed only in vernacular architecture books, but there are plenty of them scattered around this area...
To be more precise one should call them permanent homesteads, in the Maa language enkang. They are built on high ground and people would only live there part of the year, spending the other part in temporary settlements in the plains. Now they tend to live there all the time, or move directly to the town and cities.
The smallest of the three homesteads in this photo has a diameter of 50 m. The dark line around it is a fence of thorny plants used to keep in the cattle and keep out predators. The Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture (Paul Olivier) says that the houses are oval, but here they look pretty circular, don’t they? To be verified on site.
When a girl marries, at about 14 years of age, she builds her own house with the help of other women in the homestead. The house remains her property and no one can enter it without her permission, not even the husband. Does that mean that women have a rather strong role in Maasai society? If I look at the interior of the house, something tells me that it is probably not so.



In the plan you can see that there is a man’s bed and a woman’s bed. Well, first of all the man’s bed is much larger, second here it is not said, but the children sleep with the mother. So a smaller bed for maybe 4-5 people... Plus, the man has one bed in each of his wives’ houses.
Yes, they say it is a patriarchal society. We will see.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Military Landscape on the Delaware Bay

When I want to walk around a place with open space, vistas, and history, I go over to Fort Mott and Finns Point National Cemetery, about 8 miles from my home. A trail system winds through and ties together the two parks.

Fort Mott is one of three forts that guarded the Delaware River starting in the early nineteenth century, and is on the New Jersey coast in Salem County. Fort Delaware sits on an island in the middle of the river, and Fort du Pont is on the Delaware coast. A ferry connects the three forts, all state parks, for tourists during the summer.


Military activity began in 1863 with a Confederate POW cemetery which later became Finns Point National Cemetery. The POW camp was at Fort Delaware, which earned the nickname "Andersonville of the North" (Andersonville was the infamous southern prison camp of the American Civil War).




A monument offers tribute to the 2,400 Confederate soldiers who suffered and died at Fort Delaware as prisoners of war. Bronze plaques for each southern state at the base of the monument list every soldier's name.










Fort Delaware stands on Pea Patch Island, here seen from Fort Mott. On the far side is the state of Delaware, which owns the island.







At Fort Mott, the built landscape consists of several batteries with concrete gun emplacements in earthen berms concealing brick and concrete magazines and commander stations, as well as steel observation towers, brick and wooden buildings for offices, storage, and housing, and parade grounds.




In 1872 two batteries and five magazines were built as "Finns Point Battery," but most of the Fort today reflects the period of Spanish-American War defenses beginning in 1897.

The two mounds are the remaining 1872 magazines and battery with the 1902 observation tower.



1872 gun emplacement on the battery, minus the gun.








This Battery Edwards casemate was reconstructed from a 1872 magazine.








Battery Gregg was built 1901-1910. Inside the earth mound is a concrete magazine. On top are a gun emplacement and an observation post. Battery Gregg was restored in the 1990s (I worked on this one as a Watson & Henry designer).





The observation tower built in 1903 and fort headquarters were both restored in recent years under New Jersey's Historic Preservation Trust Fund.




There are no remaining guns at Fort Mott. Three guns were sold to Canada in 1941. Two are exhibited at Fort Cape Spear in Newfoundland. The other went to Fort Prével in Québec.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Secrets of the Anglican Buttresses

Students of the 2008 course may remember St. Luke's Anglican Church at Coin du Banc. Like all the Anglican churches we saw in this locale, it has characteristic Gothic buttresses made of wood. Though real Gothic buttresses are stone, they certainly reinforce the Gothic style. This wooden design was the template for Anglican churches in the late-nineteenth-century in Gaspe cultural landscape, if I remember correctly.

So again, if I remember correctly, we were told that these buttresses are thought to be simply decoration. Now, I disagree.












At St. Lukes, the inner structure of the buttresses on the west side was exposed for restoration. I had uploaded this photo to my Facebook site and had a sudden revelation as I was reviewing a caption--that it was just decoration. As many times as I had looked at this photo, the function of the framing did not register in my mind till then. My epiphany contests the idea of "just decoration."

Look at the diagonal timber. The bottom end makes a "birdsmouth" joint into the end of the beam so it cannot slip out. The birdsmouth is an age-old structural joint. The top seems to pass into the wall. The beam probably spans across the to the other side, tying to the opposite buttress, tying the building together. They are heavy pieces--timbers, which are used for structure. Also notice that the buttresses fall midway between the windows and hit the wall at about the point of curve at the window. Is there anything to meet it on the interior?


Look at the location of the truss on the interior and the height on the wall where it ends. That is the spot where the buttress hits on the exterior.

The buttresses appear to function structurally after all, as a truss (a triangular arrangement of members that resist forces) dressed up as a buttress. A buttress in wood.

If all they needed was decoration, they could have done it with a lighter design of vertical studs.

What do you think? Decoration or structurally functional? This hypothesis could be tested with plan and section drawings, along with investigation of the connection between the buttress truss and the roof truss. But I think these churches would collapse without these wooden buttresses.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The quarantine station of Grosse Ile

Grosse Ile is an island situated on the St. Lawrence River, east of Quebec City. The island is owned by the Government of Canada (Parks Canada) and is host of the Irish Memorial National Historic Site. The island was the point of entry for waves of immigration between the years of 1832 and 1937. Grosse Ile served as a human quarantine station. The Memorial commemorates the arrival of more than 4 million immigrants during this period, particularly, Irish immigrants, during the typhoid epidemic of 1847.

Escaping the Great Famine which was ravaging their country, nearly 100 000 Irish men, women and children crossed the ocean, coming to Canada between 1845 and 1849. More than 5000 are buried on the island. In the Irish cemetery are buried the victims of the cholera and typhus epidemics of 1832 and 1847. As one can see on the picture of cemetery, signs of the trenches dug for the mass burials of 1847 are still visible; before that date, individual burials were made. In order to commemorate this important part of Canadian history, as well as the other successive arrivals of Irish, a memorial for the Irishmen was erected in 1998 by Parks Canada. A Celtic cross was built in 1909 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians to commemorate the burial of the Irishmen on the island. Three languages – French, English and Gaelic – are used on the monument to recall the tragedy.

Following the tragedy of 1847, the authorities changed the structure of the island to accommodate the immigrants. The western part of the island welcomed the healthy immigrants, the centre was reserved for the administration and for the island’s workers, and the eastern part was for the sick inhabitants. Three hotels were built on the western part of the island for the passengers under medical observation. They were lodged in the hotels according to the social class they occupied on the ship. Other buildings were also erected to accommodate the immigrants. For example, the wash house was used by the immigrants to their clothes. It was built in 1855-1856 and is located near the shoreline. From left to right, you can see on the picture the wash house, the first-class hotel, the second-class hotel and the third-class hotel.

Government employees were recruited to operate Grosse Ile’s quarantine station. First used as a temporary site, the village of St-Louis-de-la-Grosse-Ile, located at the centre of the island, was built to accommodate the permanent employees of the quarantine station. This little community included physicians, nurses and many others, such as priests and pastors, bakers, teachers, sailors, and their family. Nurses were required to remain unmarried due to social code at the time. Their house (on your left) represents this situation, as built as semi-detached unit. Physicians lived in two-storey brick houses (on your right). Interestingly, the physicians’ houses are among the first pre-fabricated houses in Canada. Both houses, the nurses’ and physicians’ houses, were built in 1912. Two chapels, a Catholic and an Anglican one, were also built on the island, to serve the community of employees and the immigrants. These chapels, being located at the centre of the island, meant that only the employees could visit them. However, the priests and pastors were permitted to travel to the western and eastern parts of the island to offer their services to the immigrants. The Catholic chapel was built in 1874. It is made of wood and is among the first buildings on the island to have a solid foundation instead of pillars. It is also located at the centre of the village, as we saw with the Catholic community at Percé. The Anglican chapel (on your left) was built a few years later, in 1877-1878. It is also made of wood and is located on a hill, at the outskirts the village, near the St. Lawrence River.



The sick population was located at the eastern part of the island. Twelve buildings, called lazarettos, were where the patient received care. Only one is still standing (on your left). It was built in 1847 and is among the oldest buildings on the island. Contrarily to the western part of the island, patients were not housed according to their social standing. An interesting detail about the lazarettos is the presence of aeration vents (on your right), used to help evacuate what they believed at the time to be sickness clouds called miasmas. Indeed, ventilation was positive for patients since it meant that the air was constantly purified. Another interesting detail is the presence of red rooms (on your left) in lazarettos as of 1904, approximately. Due to the idea that sunlight was dangerous for smallpox sufferers, the glass of the windows in certain rooms was red. By putting red filters, an invigorating color, it was believed that the patients had a better chance of survival. A more modern hospital was built in 1881, but was destroyed by fire in 1968.

On a more personal note, I would like to mention that I really appreciated my trip to Grosse Ile. I went there with friends and colleagues from my research centre here at Laval University. The island is really nice and interesting for its important part in Canadian history. I would also have to say that the boat trip to the island was a big part of the fun too!

If you would like more information about Grosse Ile, I suggest you check out Parks Canada’s website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/. I would like to thank my friend and colleague Samantha Sylvain who accepted to look over this text. My English would not be as good without her help.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The du Pont Landscape of Delaware

Part I: The du Pont Powder Mills

Across the Delaware River from my home is northern Delaware, a landscape dominated since 1802 by a significant industry and an exceptional family. Eleuthère Irénée du Pont of Nemours, France started a gunpowder and blasting powder works on the Brandywine Creek and his descendents built it up into the international chemical company that it is today. I visited the site, now Hagley Museum, this past summer in order to better understand the context of the industry and the du Pont family.

The powder mills were built of Delaware "blue rock" and faced the Brandywine Creek. The creekside wall was wood, made to be sacrificial in the event of explosion, of which there were more than 200 between 1802 and 1921. Note the round-arch opening for the mill race. These mills were water-powered. A long raceway ran parallel to the creek with a gate at each mill. There are roughly twenty surviving mill buildings lining the creek, where the powder was prepared, produced and packed.



A narrow-gauge railway carried gunpowder from the mills out of the site. The stone-lined channel in the foreground is a raceway carrying water to power the mill. Notice the free-standing stone wall in front of this mill. What do you suppose that was for? (There is a hint in the preceding paragraph.)







The du Ponts also built country houses throughout the Brandywine Valley, many of which survive. Some are now museums, like Winterthur, Hagley, and Nemours, some are still houses, and others became country clubs.


This is the first du Pont family home, called Eleuthèrian Mills. Built on a crest above the powder works in 1803 by E. I. du Pont, it was enlarged in 1853 to its present form by his son Henry du Pont. After an explosion in the powder yard below in 1890, the family vacated and it became an employee clubhouse, an army guard station and a farm manager's house. In 1921 when the old powder works were closed, it again became a du Pont family home and was restored and occupied by Louise du Pont Crowninshield, who was a founding trustee of the U. S. National Trust for Historic Preservation. After her death in 1958 it became part of the Hagley Museum. Though it is a public museum, du Pont family descendents still regard it as their ancestral home and can often be found puttering around the place as though visiting family. After two centuries it is still very much a du Pont family landscape.

The rear veranda looks out over gardens, the Brandywine Creek, and the powder works.

Behind the house are the remains of designed gardens. E. I. du Pont was a horticulture enthusiast and spawned generations of du Pont gardeners in the Brandywine Valley. Today the area is known for its country houses and gardens, such as those at Longwood (Pierre S. du Pont) and Winterthur (Henry Francis du Pont), and has been called "Chateau Country."

More to come...

Friday, September 19, 2008

The unseen cultural landscape


Besides the three weeks of the Summer Field School in the Gaspesie, my main summer fun was canoeing the local waterways near my home in Salem County, New Jersey. My favorite trip was this one on the Salem River. I took this right after a sudden thunderstorm we could not outrun. As lightning got close, we pulled into this convenient cut in the bank under some overhanging trees, and waited it out, getting soaked and chilly as we prayed no lightning would hit close (with a fiberglass canoe, I had an illusion of safety as we sat in it). Nothing bad happened--it was actually a beautiful and welcome experience of wildness.

This looks like a natural landscape but it has a hidden cultural character. There was a day when this river, like most, served as an important transportation route for local farmers. Wooden boats carried farm produce down the river to market. Not far downstream from our canoe refuge, by a main road, are the skeletal remains of many sunken wooden boats we discovered in 2002 during a drought. But on this day, the water was high and our canoes glided over top of them (I could feel them with my paddle, though). These may be the crop-carrying boats of long ago. Click on the photo to see them lined up on the bank.











I don't know anything about these boats--how old they are or if they are some particular design. Any Delaware Valley maritime experts out there? Why are so many in one place? This spot is just upstream of a 19th century canal dug to the Delaware River that cut off miles of travel down to the natural outlet of the Salem river.















Also here are the remains of an early bridge that was probably wooden.

A road, a bridge, a river, a canal . . . a confluence of routes. A concentration of sunken wooden boats . . . material evidence of a cultural landscape and a historic economy that once thrived but is no more.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In honour of Parfait Bacon


As we all have realized in Gaspésie, the study of cemeteries can offer unexpected satisfactions...

I'd like to share with you a little list of sources provided by members of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, in case you decide to do some research in this field.

- Lynette Strangsteds, Cemetery Architecture, 1988 AASLH
- For 19th century cemetery architecture, the classic "A Time to Mourn: Expressions of Grief in 19th C America" by Martha V. Pike & Janice Gray Armstrong (a good place to start)
- http://www.gravestonestudies.org/
- http://potifos.com/cemeteries.html
- Cemeteries & Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture, Richard E. Meyer
- Soul In The Stone: Cemetery Art From America's Heartland. John Gary Brown.


The two photos show the Mount Royal, the mountain that gives the name to Montreal. Besides being a fantastic park with two beautiful belvederes, and a place for cross-country skiing, skating and running, this is also the city's cemetery.
The Mount Royal Cemetery was incorporated in 1847 and covers 165 acres that belonged once to old farms. The property hosts many historical burials and valuable monuments.

As it happens in many cemeteries, the monuments are often subject to theft and damage. This summer, comprehensive documentation of all the works of art has begun. Hopefully this catalogue will be soon made available to the public, as it could help avoiding illegal commerce of these pieces.

One thing I like in the first picture is the mix of ethnic origins. In the foreground you can see a stone with an Arab name just beside a stone written in Cyrillic alphabet. Behind them there are 4 Anglophone names and among them a very Italian one (De Santis).